Congress to keep keys to Cabinet

PTI | ByVinod Sharma, New Delhi
May 22, 2004 02:58 AM IST

While Cong is likely to keep Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance for itself, each ally would get one ministry against 3.5 MPs.

Sonia Gandhi’s negotiators on Friday managed to wangle the key ministries of Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance for the Congress and worked out a formula for allocating portfolios to the allies. According to the formula, each ally will get one ministry against 3.5 MPs.

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The buzz in Congress circles was that subject to last-minute changes, Pranab Mukherjee will get Home and K Natwar Singh External Affairs. The Finance slot may be retained by prime minister-designate Manmohan Singh.

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An AICC source said the list of allies who will take oath with the PM has been more or less finalised. While hinting at the participation of the RJD’s Laloo Yadav and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, he said the Congress component of the Cabinet will be decided by Manmohan Singh in consultation with Sonia Gandhi.

However, sources in touch with Laloo hinted there was a stand-off between the RJD chief and Ram Vilas Paswan over Railways. If the matter isn’t resolved tonight the swearing-in could be re-scheduled.

It took the Congress brass an entire day and several rounds of talks to mollify Laloo and persuade Pawar, who finally announced his decision to join the government.

Between meetings with allies, the negotiators, including Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, R.K. Dhawan, Kamal Nath and Ahmed Patel, shuttled back and forth from 10 Janpath, where Manmohan Singh was closetted with Sonia.

The power-sharing formula broke the ice with Laloo and Pawar, who have 21 and nine MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha. It also suits the DMK, which has 20 MPs, including four of Vaiko’s MDMK which — in line with its poll-time announcement — is not joining the government.

Laloo and Pawar have reportedly settled for ministries other than the four the Congress was unwilling to give up. Though there was no formal word on their wish lists, sources — privy to the hard bargaining that took place at Congress MP Kapil Sibal’s home where Laloo met Arjun Singh and Dhawan — claimed that the RJD leader was keen on Railways for himself and Power and Civil Aviation for his team.

The formula is expected to fetch the RJD and the DMK — which is eyeing Surface Transport and Communications — three cabinet berths and three minister of state portfolios each.

Laloo may also take home a special economic package denied him by the NDA after the creation of Jharkhand. “A settlement has been reached. The Congress itself is committed to correct the injustice done to Bihar,” said a Sonia emissary.

Meanwhile, the word from JMM leader Shibu Soren’s camp was that he may get Steel and Mines. But a senior Congress official said the tribal leader, who has five MPs, may have to be content with just the Mines portfolio.


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